The Brönte Sisters, West Yorkshire, England

Three sisters, raised in a remote village, who at a young age produced some of the most lauded works in English literature. Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre), Emily (Wuthering Heights), and Anne (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall).

The Bröntes’ Training Ground: Audio Slideshow

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Lessons

World-class writing skill, like soccer or skateboarding or anything else, requires 10,000 hours of deep practice – firing and honing skill circuits. The Bröntes’ special tool was called their Little Books: dozens of tiny, handmade journals they filled with thousands of pages of stories, poems, plays, and novels from the time they were quite young. Their 10,000 hours was particularly efficient because they:

  • Were willing to make mistakes. Out of view of any parent or teacher’s eye, they could boldly experiment (and fail) over and over. They became great writers not in spite of the fact that they started out immature and imitative—to the contrary, they became great writers precisely because they were willing and able to spend vast amounts of time being immature and imitative.
  • Worked from a platform of existing stories. Far from inventing things out of thin air, the Brontes’ Little Books were their reinterpretations (a.k.a. ripoffs) of stories they had read elsewhere, in magazines and books. In this way, they learned structure and technique—what works and what doesn’t.
  • Experienced it as an enthralling game. The Little Books were to the Brontes what empty swimming pools were to the skateboarding Z-Boys: a place to cooperate, compete, and entertain each other with ever-more-difficult feats of skill. In other words: a hothouse for skill circuits.